I’ve been following developments in this case since it began. I was disappointed with the verdict today by Malaysia’s highest court. But first, here are news reports about the case and the verdict………

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Malaysia’s Lina Joy loses Islam conversion case, Wednesday May 30

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (Reuters) – Malaysia’s best known Christian convert, Lina Joy, lost a six-year battle on Wednesday to have the word “Islam” removed from her identity card, after the country’s highest court rejected the change.

The ruling threatens to further polarise Malaysian society between non-Muslims who feel that their constitutional right to religious freedom is being eroded, and Muslims who believe that civil courts have no right to meddle in Islamic affairs.

“You can’t at whim and fancy convert from one religion to another,” Federal Court Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim said in delivering judgment in the case, which has stirred religious tensions in the mainly Muslim nation.

He said the civil court had no jurisdiction in the case and that it should be dealt with by the country’s Islamic courts.

“The issue of apostasy is related to Islamic law, so it’s under the sharia court. The civil court cannot intervene.”

About 200 mostly young Muslims welcomed the ruling outside the domed courthouse with shouts of “Allah-o-Akbar” (God is great), but Christians and non-Muslim politicians were dismayed.

“I think it’s a major blow,” opposition politician Lim Kit Siang said. “It casts a large shadow on civil liberties and the constitutional rights of Malaysians.”

Malaysia’s Council of Churches was saddened.

“We still go by the possibility that the constitution allows any citizen of the country to exercise his or her right to choose a religion and practise it,” council secretary Rev. Hermen Shastri said outside the court.

“I don’t think this decision is going to stop an individual from exercising that right for whatever reason.”

Dissenting Ruling

The three-judge appeal bench ruled 2-1 against Joy. The dissenting judge, the only non-Muslim on the bench, said the department responsible for issuing identity cards should have complied with Joy’s request to remove “Islam” from her card.

He accused the National Registration Department of abusing its powers. “In my view, this is tantamount to unequal treatment under the law. She is entitled to an IC where the word Islam does not appear,” dissenting judge Richard Malanjum said.

Malaysia’s Muslim Youth Movement welcomed the ruling, which asserted the overriding jurisdiction of the Islamic or sharia courts in cases centring on a Muslim’s faith.

“We hope that we have seen the last of such attempts,” said the movement’s president, Yusri Mohamad. “We invite anyone who feels that they are aggrieved or victimised within the current system to choose other, less confrontational and controversial attempts towards change and reform.”

In practice, sharia courts do not allow Muslims to formally renounce Islam, preferring to send apostates to counselling and, ultimately, fining or jailing them if they do not desist.

They often end up in legal limbo, unable to register their new religious affiliations or legally marry non-Muslims. Many keep silent about their choice or emigrate.

Lina Joy, 43, was born Azlina Jailani and was brought up as a Muslim, but at the age of 26 decided to become a Christian. She wants to marry her Christian boyfriend, a cook, but she cannot do so while her identity card declares her to me Muslim.

In 1999, the registration department allowed her to change the name in her identity card to Lina Joy but the entry for her religion remained “Islam”.

Malaysia, like neighbouring Indonesia, practises a moderate brand of Islam, but Muslims account for only a bare majority of Malaysia’s population and are very sensitive to any perceived threats to Islam’s special status as the official religion.

Malaysia has been under Islamic influence since the 15th century, but big waves of Chinese and Indian immigrants over the last 150 years has dramatically changed its racial and religious make-up. Now, about 40 percent of Malaysians are non-Muslim.

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Malaysia woman loses appeal on religion, Wednesday May 30

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AFP) – Malaysia’s top secular court on Wednesday rejected a woman’s bid to be legally recognised as Christian after converting from Islam, saying the matter must be decided by a religious court.

Lina Joy, 43, had sought to have the word “Islam” removed from her national identity card but the Federal Court threw out her case, deciding that only an Islamic sharia tribunal could legally certify her conversion.

Renouncing the faith is one of the gravest sins in Islam, and Joy’s case has raised questions about religious freedom here as well as the exact legal relationship between the mainly Muslim country’s secular and religious courts.

“Apostasy is within the powers of the Islamic law and the sharia courts. Civil courts cannot interfere,” Federal Court Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim said in the majority decision.

“In short, she cannot, at her own whim, simply enter or leave her religion… She must follow rules.”

Joy, an ethnic Muslim Malay born Azlina Jailani, had argued she should not be bound by the Islamic courts because she is now a Christian.

The ruling comes amid mounting racial and religious tensions in multiracial Malaysia, where minority religious groups fear their rights are being undermined, even though the country is traditionally seen as moderate.

“God is great!” a crowd of about 200 people, who had been holding a mass prayer, shouted in unison outside the court complex when they learned of the verdict.

Islam is Malaysia’s official religion. More than 60 percent of the nation’s 27 million people are Muslim Malays.

But while the constitution defines the ethnic majority Malays as Muslims it also guarantees freedom of religion. The country’s minority Chinese and Indians are mostly Buddhists, Hindus or Christians.

Joy’s appeal to the Federal Court centred on whether she must go to a sharia court to have her renunciation recognised before authorities delete the word “Islam” from her identity card.

The chief justice said the National Registration Department (NRD), in charge of issuing identity cards, had the right to demand that the sharia court certify Joy’s conversion.

But the only non-Muslim judge on the three-member judicial panel disagreed.

Judge Richard Malanjum said the NRD’s demand was “discriminatory and unconstitutional,” and it was unreasonable to expect a person to “self-incriminate” herself before a sharia court.

“In some states in Malaysia, apostasy is a criminality,” Malanjum said.

Sharia courts have been loath to approve apostasy.

Malaysia’s civil courts operate in parallel to sharia courts for Muslims in areas of family law including divorce, child custody and inheritance.

But the question of which takes precedence has been unclear in cases that involve both Muslims and non-Muslims, who have little say in sharia courts.

Joy fears retaliation from Muslim groups and was not present in court.

Her lawyers refused comment on the verdict.

But opposition lawmaker Teresa Kok, of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), said it was “a setback against religious freedom.” She called for a constitutional amendment to entrench the civil courts’ superiority over sharia courts.

Lawyers and human rights activists who monitored the decision agreed it has not settled anything.

“The Federal Court, the apex court of the country, is divided over this issue, as the country is divided on this issue,” said Zainah Anwar, of Sisters in Islam, a rights group for Muslim women.

Yusri Mohamad, president of the Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement, welcomed the verdict.

He said Joy’s appeal to the Federal Court should be seen as part of an effort to revamp Malaysia’s balance between Muslims and non-Muslims.

“We hope that we have seen the last of such an attempt,” he said.

“This decision should not be perceived as a victory for Muslims and a loss to non-Muslims.”

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Its a personal decision whether one wishes to remain or to convert.

If one wishes to convert, bringing unbearable pressure on them to remain in the fold will most likely make one a superficial Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc, etc. Most who choose to convert must have spent many agonising and difficult moments thinking about it. They could do without the additional haranguing and threats (subtle or otherwise).

I’ll just leave you now with these links: Marina Mahathir’s Do we believe in the Quran?, Littlespeck’s Talking Apostasy and Aliran’s Lina Joy verdict: No freedom, no compassion.

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